Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why Belfast? Why Waldo County? Why Maine? — Arielle Bywater

I was asked to give a reading at today's cohousing general meeting, and I chose to read a poem about how the Belfast community took care of our family when our second child died, a stillbirth. I didn't realize until afterward that many people did not know this part of our story. So below is a short essay I wrote about the experience--and how it fits into our interest in Maine and in community--back after it happened.

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When my husband and I tell folks that we got married in an art gallery in Belfast, Maine, or that I gave birth to our son in a small house overlooking the bay there, or that this son is buried a bit further north in a pine forest in Orrington, they look at us funny. After all, we live in the Midwest. “You don’t have family there, do you?” Nope. “Did you grow up there?” We grew up in Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. “Well, then, why?”

How does anyone obsessed with Maine explain this particular madness? Usually, I say something like, “We started going there on vacation when we were dating because I had fond memories of camping in Acadia as a child. Also, I had once stumbled upon Belfast with an ex, ate hand-made lavender ice cream in an architectural salvage store/cafe, and swore I’d go back. Also, I saw a feature about the Common Ground Fair on TV when I was a teenager, wrote the name down in a notebook and never forgot about it. Also, it’s where I took up running, and where, in a used bookstore, I discovered Buddhism...” at which point my eyes start to flash the state seal and my conversational companions politely excuse themselves.

Or I tell this story: After several trips to Belfast wherein Rob and I discovered it was the place where the most magical things always happened to us, we were in Maine again, this time determined not to go to Belfast. “Let’s go to Camden,” we said. “We never go to Camden.” A half-dozen t-shirt shops later, we took one look at each other and hopped in the car, heading twenty minutes north for our beloved town. Driving in on High Street, we saw the road was blocked off: the town was having a midsummer festival, and people young and old were wearing flower wreaths in their hair and dancing barefoot in the middle of the street. Ah, we sighed. We’re back.

So when we were to be married, it had to be Belfast. The affair was strictly locavore, to use a phrase since coined: dinner with arriving guests at Chase’s Daily, everyone at B&Bs, picnic with food from the Co-op in a public park on the harbor, party the night before at the yoga studio, a morning run through the streets, flowers from a woman who lives in a geodesic dome outside of town, and a caterer and photographer we found right downtown, who provided food and photographs all of our sophisticated city friends pronounced the loveliest they’d ever eaten or seen. Our furthest import was the wonderful, wacky Buddhist professor from Bowdoin who married us. It was perfect.

Fast forward five year, and we were pregnant with our second child and living in Illinois, where the kind of birth we wanted, a homebirth with professional midwives, is illegal. Our solution? The same solution we have for everything: go to Belfast! Once again, we found the ideal people for the job in the tiny downtown: better midwives, I believe, than are available in the entire city of Chicago. So in the dead of winter, we moved temporarily into the little house we’d rented for a couple weeks the previous summer and waited for our son to arrive.

And when our son was stillborn, it was the Maine community who rallied around us and kept us whole, even though we were perfect strangers: the Belfast midwives; the homesteaders in Montville who’d had stillbirths themselves and made us a necklace to remember our boy out of grass seeds from their land; the labor doula from Union who became a dear friend; the stone carver from Stockton Springs who makes exquisite tombstones and dropped all his work to do this small job for us; the Solon woman starting a green cemetery in Orrington who allowed our son to be buried in her family’s private plot because the paperwork hadn’t yet gone through to make it public; and the local church folks who came out on that frigid winter day to dig the grave for us. Our baby’s death certificate, like our marriage license, is issued from the Belfast Town Hall. It’s the place where some of the biggest moments of our lives have happened, even though we’ve never actually lived there.

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